LOS ALTOS, CA, September 7, 2012 – The latest research out of Stanford University confirms something the scientific community has probably known for years but is only recently beginning to admit more openly: When it comes to better health, we don’t really know what we think we know.
After analyzing 237 studies comparing the health benefits of organic and non-organic foods, Dr. Dena Bravata, a senior affiliate with Stanford’s Center for Health Policy, concluded, “There isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you’re an adult and making a decision based solely on your health.”
What’s that? You mean all that money we spend on highfalutin fruits and veggies – over $24 billion a year in the U.S. alone – ain’t worth it? That depends.
Certainly there are those whose decision to buy organic products is based on other considerations like taste preference, concern about conventional farming practices on the environment, and animal welfare. But if it’s better health you’re looking for, the Stanford analysis suggests you might as well save a few bucks the next time you go to the supermarket.
This all-too-common trend of “what we once thought was a great idea but maybe not so much now” relates to other aspects of health care as well.
In his most recent New York Times op ed, “Overdiagnosed” co-author and professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, shines the spotlight on a number of medical practices that may actually be doing more harm than good.
“By 1990, many doctors were recommending hormone replacement therapy to healthy middle-aged women and P.S.A. screening for prostate cancer to older men…. But in 2002, a randomized trial showed that preventive hormone replacement caused more problems (more heart disease and breast cancer) than it solved (fewer hip fractures and colon cancer). Then, in 2009, trials showed that P.S.A. screening led to many unnecessary surgeries and had a dubious effect on prostate cancer deaths.”
So, if it’s not organic food or the latest, greatest medical procedure, is there anything we can rely on for better health?
In her seminal work on spirituality and health, nineteenth century religious reformer and medical pioneer, Mary Baker Eddy, suggests, “Moral conditions will be found always harmonious and health-giving.”
Taken in its fuller context, Eddy’s shrewd analysis seems particularly relevant today, providing even further insight into the nature of health itself. She writes:
“The elements and functions of the physical body and of the physical world will change as mortal mind changes its beliefs. What is now considered the best condition for organic and functional health in the human body may no longer be found indispensable to health. Moral conditions will be found always harmonious and health-giving.”
In just three short sentences Eddy offers not only an explanation for the apparent unreliability of various medical theories and practices, but also the groundwork for achieving reliable health.
While the connection between mind and body is not a particularly new field of research, a more recent trend has been the exploration of the link between physical health and such moral qualities as generosity, forgiveness, honesty, and compassion.
For instance, in a recent column, Dr. James Doty, Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research, comments on the work being done by psychologists Ed Diener and Martin Seligman indicating that the social connectedness fostered by compassion “is a predictor of longer life, faster recovery from disease, higher levels of happiness and well-being, and a greater sense of purpose and meaning.”
He goes on to say that, “While survival of the fittest may lead to short-term gain, research clearly shows it is survival of the kindest that leads to the long-term survival of a species.”
Certainly the road to better health – at least from our limited vantage point – is anything but straight. What seems like a good idea today may very well be looked at as a wrong turn in the future. But the prospect that “moral conditions will be found always harmonious and health-giving” is certainly worth exploring further; a path that is already proving to reform mind and body in ways that are both safe and reliable.
Eric Nelson is a Christian Science practitioner, whose articles on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local, regional, and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California.
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